London, Oct. 27: At the time of writing late on Sunday afternoon the weather in London seems unremarkable with only a fresh breeze blowing but, if the weather forecasters are right, this is literally the calm before the worst storm to hit Britain for many years.
Perhaps the people of Calcutta and of London could have a little competition to decide whose storm was more devastating but so far as the rains go, India — “some 157.3mm rain fell in Calcutta in the 24 hours since 5.30pm on Friday” — might win the ODI.
That is far more impressive than the figure for Britain where the Met office has calculated “20-40mm (0.80-1.6in) of rain might fall within six to nine hours in the wettest areas”.
But when other factors are taken into account — for example, wind speeds of up to 90mph and countless fallen trees across a devastated landscape — Britain might just edge ahead in the death overs.
There is also the expected flooding when the deluge occurs on wetland that cannot soak up any more water.
The British storm is gathering strength somewhere over the Atlantic, rather in the manner of a demon fast bowler in the mould of Ishant Sharma — well, perhaps not Ishant — beginning his run-up.
So serious is the situation that the Prime Minister David Cameron has taken personal charge of the crisis.
Transport ministers, the department for communities and local government and the Cabinet office updated the Prime Minister on preparations and contingency plans for transport, local authorities, schools, health and power supplies.
The storm has been christened “St Jude” after the patron saint of depression and lost causes, whose feast day is on Monday. Roads, flights and trains are expected to be disrupted, and some rail operators have already announced revised timetables. The Met office has issued an amber alert for high winds in Wales, the East and West Midlands, the South West, London and the South East and the East of England.
A yellow alert warning of heavy rain that could lead to surface water flooding and disruption is in place across much of northern Wales and northern England.
High winds have already been reported in some areas, with a wind turbine collapsing in Devon on Saturday night. More than 1,000 homes are without power in Pangbourne, Berkshire, after a falling tree brought down a power line. Waves have been crashing near Brighton Pier in East Sussex. And storm watchers have been turning out to look at the rough seas in the harbour at Porthleven, Cornwall.
Insurance companies have advised households to take steps to protect themselves and their property. One firm, Direct Line, said people should establish evacuation plans, place valuable items upstairs to limit flood damage and ensure gutters are clear so water can drain away.
The Met office described the storm as not one “you would see every year”, and said the expected wind strengths would be similar to storms in March 2008, January 2007 and October 2000.
Gusts of 115mph were recorded during the Great Storm of 1987, when 18 people died and thousands of homes were without power for several days. Millions of trees, including giant ancient oaks, were uprooted.Frank Saunders, chief forecaster at the Met office, said: “We are confident that a severe storm will affect Britain on Sunday night and Monday. We are now looking at refining the details about which areas will see the strongest winds and the heaviest rain.”
Chris Burton, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, predicted: “As the rain pushes north the winds will pick up, and by midnight there should be gusts of about 60mph across south-west England. Through the early hours much of southern England will see winds of 60-80mph, maybe closer to 90mph in exposed areas on the south coast.”
The environment agency has teams working to minimise river flood risk, clearing debris from streams and unblocking culverts, and are closely monitoring water levels so they are ready to issue flood warnings if necessary.
Driving, especially in tall vehicles, won’t be safe.
Martin Hobbs, head of asset resilience at the highways agency, warned: “Be aware of sudden gusts of wind and give high-sided vehicles, caravans, motorbikes and bicycles plenty of space.”